The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic

Overview

James Madison was the finest democratic theorist that the United States has ever produced. His was the pivotal philosophical role in framing the Constitution and establishing the principles on which a wholly new form of government was to be based. Yet this widely informed and profoundly original thinker has been considered by most scholars to be an intellectual pragmatist who reacted variably and inconsistently to the changing circumstances of the Revolution and the Confederation. Lance Banning's powerful and ...
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Overview

James Madison was the finest democratic theorist that the United States has ever produced. His was the pivotal philosophical role in framing the Constitution and establishing the principles on which a wholly new form of government was to be based. Yet this widely informed and profoundly original thinker has been considered by most scholars to be an intellectual pragmatist who reacted variably and inconsistently to the changing circumstances of the Revolution and the Confederation. Lance Banning's powerful and persuasive reexamination of Madison's thought at the critical early and central stages of his career now changes that presumption, and provides a new base from which thinking about Madison and the Founding must start. The Sacred Fire of Liberty follows Madison from his appearance on the national stage (in Congress in 1780) through the end of 1792. By the end of this period, he had achieved his mature understanding of the Constitution, and his collision with many of the other Federalists of 1788 had made him a leader of the opposition to the administration of George Washington. Banning convinces the reader, through his meticulous research and deeply contextualized presentation of the shifting issues of the period, that Madison indeed held to consistent principles: he was at once a more committed democrat and a less eager nationalist than usually has been thought. The thinking that had underpinned his actions at the great convention, his numbers of The Federalist, and the supposed reversal of positions represented by his joining with Thomas Jefferson to form the first Republican party had firmed by 1792 into the understandings that would guide the rest of his career.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Brilliant and original. . . . The Sacred Fire of Liberty is a challenging book, bristling with ideas and filled with fine shades of emphasis and meaning. Yet there is . . . no jargon or academic obfuscation, and the attentive reader should have no trouble following the argument."—Evan Cornog, New York Times Book Review

"No one who has followed Banning's account of Madison's development . . . will read The Federalist or plot the trajectory of his career in quite the same way again. This is no small achievement."—Edmund S. Morgan, The New Republic

"Well researched and eloquently rendered. . . . An essential addition to the scholarship on the New Republic."—Library Journal

"The Sacred Fire of Liberty is a work of tremendous erudition; an intellectual biography of James Madison that changes and enriches our understanding of the man, his thought, and the part he played in the Founding. . . . It is safe to say that any future study of Madison will begin with this insightful and well-argued reinterpretation."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"This is quite possibly the best political biography of Madison you will every see, and a wonderful analysis of Madison as both framer and one of the authors of The Federalist."—Byte

"Banning's treatment of James Madison is original and brilliant. His book is a landmark to the scholarship of the American republic and to an essential Founder. The Sacred Fire of Liberty will remain the authority on Madison for years to come."—Rob Edmonds, McCormick Messenger

Library Journal
To the rather large body of excellent biographical and historical literature about James Madison and his impact in shaping what historians refer to as "the New Republic" may now be added Banning's (Jefferson and Madison, LJ 2/1/95) excellent study of the nation's fourth president. The focus of the current work is the keenness and constancy of Madison's intellect and the extent to which those qualities affected the eventual foundational documents of the United States. It is well researched and eloquently rendered; the main drawback is the lack of a formal bibliography, although this shortcoming is partially rectified by a detailed chapter of bibliographical references. Though it does not replace existing titles in Madisonian studies, Banning's work is an essential addition to the scholarship on the New Republic. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.-William Emory Buchanan, Clarion Univ., Pa.
Booknews
Banning (history, U. of Kentucky) argues that Madison was not an intellectual "pragmatist" who reacted variably to the changing circumstances of the Revolution and the Confederation. Rather, Madison held to consistent principles and was at once a more committed democrat and a less eager nationalist than usually has been thought. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Evan Cornog
Brilliant and original...."The Sacred Fire of Liberty" is a challenging book, bristling with ideas and filled with fine shades of emphasis and meaning. -- Evan Cornog, The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801485244
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 543
  • Sales rank: 1,414,201
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
The Madisonian Madison: An Introduction 1
Ch. 1 James Madison and the Nationalists, 1780-1783 13
Ch. 2 The Crisis of Confederation Government, 1783-1787 43
Ch. 3 The Crisis of Republican Convictions 76
Ch. 4 The Virginia Plan 111
Ch. 5 To Perpetuate the Union 138
Ch. 6 To Redeem the Republican Name 165
Ch. 7 "The Practicable Sphere of a Republic": Madison, The Federalist, and the Republican Interpretation of the Constitution 195
Ch. 8 The Virginia Ratifying Convention 234
Ch. 9 Spanning the Abyss: Madison, the Bill of Rights, and the Inauguration of the Federal Republic 265
Ch. 10 The Great Divergence 293
Ch. 11 Opposition Leader 334
Ch. 12 Retrospect and Prospect 366
Appendix: The Personalities of "Publius" 396
Notes 403
Index 537
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